Nanaimo Bars, Butter Tarts, and Why I Blog

My Mom wasn’t a very good cook, but she loved to have people over for dinner and no one ever turned down an invitation. The problem with my mother’s cooking was that she was too limiting, for example: lesser quality ingredients to save money; less salt because sodium isn’t good for you; and she was British. Let’s face it, when it comes to food England isn’t France or Italy. Growing up, I suffered through a fair share of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding, Bubble and Squeak, Bangers and Mash, Trifle and Plum Pudding while silently wishing that I was born Italian.

Nanaimo Bars and Butter Tarts © Lisa Morales

On the other hand, my frugal Mom could bake and she never skimped on butter, sugar, chocolate, or whatever ingredient was needed to make dessert. The best part about mediocre suppers (as a Brit says) was that on special occasions, we could eat at least two kinds of desserts and Christmas was a sugar smorgasbord! It’s these memories that inspire today’s dessert menu — just keep reading a little more…

The kitchen is where we deal with the elements of the universe. It is where we come to understand our past and ourselves. ~ Laura Esquivel | © Lisa Morales

It’s now Week 10 of the now relaxed, stay-at-home order. Since I’ve always worked remotely and anyone who I deal with is also doing the same, there’s nowhere yet to really go. I’m not so sure either if I’ll be heading out soon for a socially distant lunch, shopping spree, or nail appointment. Will you be?

In May I Mourn

Today, marks nine years since my Mom passed away. As soon as May arrives, it’s like a dark cloud sits over me. No matter how fast I run from this cloud, it follows me. Like so many people in these current circumstances, who are saying their last goodbyes from a distance, I can relate. My Mom lost her battle with cancer one week after Mother’s Day. I sat in my backyard while she was at a hospice center in Canada, when we cried through one of our last conversations – a Happy Mother’s Day wish. It wasn’t happy, but what could I say?

Why I Blog? © Lisa Morales

The Reasons Why I Blog

Yes, I won’t deny it – I do blog for SEO. What writer or business owner doesn’t? However, my “call to write” is because of the following:

  • I write because I can express myself so much better than in spoken words.
  • I want to be heard because sometimes the people closest to me aren’t listening. I also want to be heard by others and I do appreciate the feedback received on social media.
  • Expanding on the latter point, I hope that someone else identifies with my subject and is inspired to cook, bake, drink wine, learn more about art, etc.
  • Finally, I write to leave something behind. When you lose a loved one, you hold tight to memories and material things such as photos, birthday cards, letters, Fine China – anything to keep that person close long after they’re gone. This blog is for my own children. Currently, they are slightly annoyed that they can’t eat before I get the perfect photo. However, maybe one day they’ll treasure these recipes and ramblings.

Nanaimo Bars

Unless you’re from Quebec, it’s really hard to define Canadian food. However, I’m delighted to share a couple of my favorite desserts that are apparently indigenous to Canada (not England.) There’s an interesting history to Nanaimo Bars (named after a city in British Colombia) and I suggest you read it here. If you visit B.C., you can follow the Nanaimo Bar Trail! Although there are many versions of this recipe, I’ve adapted the one created by the winner of the 1986 Best Nanaimo Bar Recipe contest held by the then, Mayor of Nanaimo. You can find Joyce Hardcastle’s recipe here.

Bottom Layer

  • ½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter (preferably European-style cultured butter)
  • 5 Tbsp (75 mL) cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup (50 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 ¾ cups (425 mL) graham wafer crumbs
  • 1 cup (250 mL) shredded coconut
  • ½ cup (125 mL) almonds, finely chopped (Note: I didn’t use nuts. See Blog Bloopers below.)

1. Pour 2 cups (500 mL) water into bottom of double boiler. Place on stove over medium heat and bring water to simmer.

2. In top of double boiler; combine butter, cocoa and sugar; place over simmering water. Heat, stirring, until butter has melted and mixture is smooth.

3. Add beaten egg; stir until thick. Remove top of double boiler from heat. Stir in graham wafer crumbs, coconut and almonds.

4. Scrape into parchment paper-lined 8-inch (2 L) square baking dish. Press firmly to create even bottom layer.

5. Tip: If you don’t have a double boiler, half-fill a saucepan with water and heat over medium heat until water begins to simmer. Then, place a metal or glass bowl over the simmering water and proceed as directed.

Middle Layer

  • ½ cup (125 mL) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp + 2 tsp (40 mL) whipping or heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) vanilla custard powder
  • 2 cups (500 mL) icing sugar

With a mixer, cream together butter, cream and custard powder. Gradually add icing sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Scrape over bottom layer, smoothing top with spatula or palette knife.

Topping

  • 4 oz (115 g) semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) unsalted butter

In clean double boiler, melt chocolate and butter together. Remove from heat; let cool slightly. When cool, but still liquid, pour over custard layer.

Cover and refrigerate until cold. (About six hours.)

Butter Tarts © Lisa Morales

Butter Tarts

Unless I’ve forgotten, my mother never made her own Butter Tarts. It was a dessert staple and a cheap sweet treat. There are versions of this recipe that include raisins, but I never liked them included then so certainly will not add them now.

Pastry

  • 2 ¼ cups flour, pastry flour is best to use but all-purpose will do
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening, Very cold and cut in cubes
  • 1/2 cup butter, Very cold and cut in cubes
  • 6 tbsp ice water, approximately, enough to bring the dough together

1. Pulse the cold butter and shortening into the flour sugar and salt using a food processor until the shortening or butter is reduced to pea sized pieces.

2. Sprinkle the water over the surface and toss with a fork until the water is just incorporated into the dough. Do not over work the dough; handle it only enough so that the dough stays together.

3. Form the dough into two rounds about an inch thick.

4. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for about a half hour.

5. Roll out on lightly floured surface. Cut into rounds with 4 inch cutter. Fit into muffin cups. Chill in the fridge or freezer while you prepare the filling. Cold pastry heading into a hot oven will always be flakier.

Filling

  • 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • (Optional: ½ cup raisins, substituting, pecans, walnuts or chocolate chips.)

1. Combine all filling ingredients except raisins.

2. Mix well.

3. Sprinkle raisins in a single layer in the bottom of the pastry lined muffin cups.

4. Fill 2/3 full with syrup mixture.

5. Bake on bottom shelf of oven at 425 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes.

6. Cool completely on a wire rack and remove tarts from from pans.

Blog Bloopers

Baking is an exact science and if you want to improvise, stick to cooking. A few things went wrong:

(1) For the Nanaimo Bars, I only had a rectangle baking pan and an 8-inch round, springform pan. Because of a nut allergy, I added more graham cracker crumbs to make up the difference. With too much crust crumbs on my hands, I had to decide between discarding some of this mix to fit in the round pan or fill a rectangular pan. I did the latter and what a mistake! There wasn’t enough custard filling and spreading it thinly was a disaster (see below for the lesson learned.) I then made more ganache to cover up the mistake and avoid a sweet tragedy!

(2) For the Butter Tarts, I did not make my own crust, but plan to do so in the future so I left that part in. As you know, some items are hard to come by, so I substituted store-bought pie dough for pastry flour to make a dough from scratch. I then cut the full size pre-cut pie dough into small circles by using a glass. Note: anticipating a gooey baked mess, I also used foil cupcake liners that I later removed once the tarts had cooled.

Wine of the Week: Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Crozes-Hermitage Silene 2017 from Wine by the Bay.

(3) When conceiving a blog post, I usually plan the wine and prepare the meal before I take the photo. Because I had already opened this bottle the night before for dinner, I had just presumed that a Syrah would work with a chocolate dessert. While this pairing wasn’t bad, it wasn’t perfect. The Crozes-Hermitage Silene 2017 is a gentle beauty and a nice expression of this style. It paired well with my French-inspired dinner and I’ll write about it next week!

Can Actions Speak Louder than Words?

My mother never told me that she loved me. It’s strange to grow up never hearing those three words and although I struggle to say it myself, I make sure that the ones I love hear it maybe not every day, but enough. I honestly can’t understand why it was so hard, but as I failed to evenly spread the middle layer of Nanaimo Bars, I thought of my mother’s perfect centers: yellow and creamy and not a crumb from the first layer mixed in. (I guess it may have taken her a few times to get it right.)

It’s at that moment when I realized that maybe what she couldn’t express in words, she was able to say in her dessert making. A way for her to communicate, like writing is to me.

The kitchen is where we deal with the elements of the universe. It is where we come to understand our past and ourselves. ~ Laura Esquivel (Author of Like Water for Chocolate.)

@AllegoryPR #MyArtEscape

Resources:

If you are grieving loss  or have lost a loved one during the COVID-19 Pandemic, here are a few helpful articles.

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Risotto, Running and REM

Wake me up because I’m tired of dreaming. It’s Week 9 of the stay-at-home order, although some of you may have started quarantine either later or earlier than me. I typically never recall my dreams, but for the past few weeks, I’ve been able to vividly retell what took place during REM before I’ve had my morning espresso. Some nights I’m being screamed at by someone because I forgot my mask, or I’m lost in a supermarket, or living back in Canada (I’ll get to that next week.)

Lockdown Dreams

I wondered if I was the only one who was having weird dreams, so after doing some searching, I discovered that scientists have documented why and how the coronavirus is affecting our dreams. There’s even a website called Lockdown Dreams and you can share your experiences with others. I’m sure that’s therapeutic for some people, but frankly, I’m tired of remembering. Why would I want to read about other people’s life-like nightmares?

Running

I began running around five years ago, but really started taking it more seriously and working on a mind-body regimen about a year ago. Where getting in a car to go basically nowhere hardly gives me pleasure, running now gives me a sense of freedom and purpose to weekends with nowhere to go. Running is my superpower. What’s yours?

Vineyard in Piemonte © Shutterstock

Daydreams Are Different

For a week I daydreamed about making Risotto with Sausage, drinking Barbaresco (see below,) and most importantly, taking a virtual trip to Italy. Thanks to Wine by the Bay in Miami, a Saturday tour of Pier Paolo Grasso’s Azienda Vitivinicola Pier (located in Treiso, Piemonte) gave me a chance to forget those stressful trips to the supermarket and an inbox filled with work requests mixed with a barrage of breaking news headlines.

The Zoom event was perfectly orchestrated by Wine by the Bay’s owner, Stefano Campanini. After signing up, a small group of “travelers” received a bottle of Barbaresco and video link to a pre-recorded demo by Sara, Pier Paolo Grasso’s wife who explained step-by-step how to prepare the dish. While we had lunch in our kitchens, the Grasso’s enjoyed dinner overlooking their vineyard! The video tour was divided into three parts starting with a 360° look of the estate; followed by the cellars; and concluding with the bottling and packaging areas. In between, we chatted, ate lunch and drank the wine pensively, but filled with excitement because we could hear insights from the winemaker himself!

Possibly it was the 14% ABV, but by glass number two, I felt like I was sitting in the same room with everyone. Imagine, guests from Washington, Texas, Florida, Quebec, and Piemonte enjoying this great experience together!

Azienda Pier by Pier Paolo Grasso – Barbaresco Riserva Piccola Emma 2007 © Lisa Morales

The Wine: Azienda Pier by Pier Paolo Grasso – Barbaresco Riserva Piccola Emma 2007

The Nebbiolo grapes used for this Riserva come from La Fenice vineyards. After vinification in steel, Piccola Emma 2007 was matured for ten years in 50hl oak barrels. Bottling took place in December 2018.

The wine sports a charming garnet color, a rich and elegant olfactory emerges, initially dominated by notes of red currant and morello cherry jams which, in a short time, reveal hints of dried violet and undergrowth as well as a slight blood tinge; a vertical balsamic vein runs through the bouquet giving it an intriguing olfactory three-dimensionality.

Note: I didn’t write this description. You can read the full review here and run it through Google translator if you don’t speak Italian. You can find some more history of the winery and a nice photo of Pier Paolo and Sara here.

Risotto with Sausage Ingredients © Lisa Morales

Risotto Recipe

If you hadn’t read this far, you would have missed out on the best part, or maybe the second best part, or equal parts. Alright, the wine and recipe tie for first place!

While it was not the first time that I’ve made risotto, it was the first time that I’ve made it with a newly opened bottle of Riserva red wine. Trust me, those tears shed from losing a half cup of Pier Paolo’s Barbaresco to this dish will quickly dry up when you taste your perfect pairing!

  • 1 c arborio rice
  • 4 – 6 cups of hot chicken stock
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 tsp of Thyme
  • ¾ c of chopped Baby Portobello mushrooms
  • Olive Oil
  • 1/2 c of Piccola Emma (or quality red wine)
  • 4 sausages each cut into thirds (I simmered the sausage in a bit of water until almost cooked and had acquired a little bit of color.)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 c of grated Parmesan cheese (save some for topping the dish or shred some more and reserve until the end)
  • 1 tbsp chopped Parsley

Using a wooden spoon, gently sauté the onions in olive oil and a dash of salt until translucent.

Add the mushrooms and Thyme and stir until soft adding more olive oil if needed.

Stir in the Arborio rice and coat with oil and lightly toast.

Add the wine, stir and simmer until it evaporates.

Add the first 3 or 4 ladles of stock until the rice is just covered with broth. Let the rice gently simmer, stirring frequently.

Repeat this step a few more times until the rice is “al dente.” When you run your spoon down the bottom of the pot, the rice will separate and you see a clear line.

Remove from heat and stir in first the butter until it is melted and combined, followed by the Parmesan cheese.

Cover for a 5-10 minutes before serving.

Note: Since I had prepared this ahead of time because I had a work commitment before the trip, I left the rice warming over another pot filled with some steamy, hot water. If your rice dries up, you can add a splash of broth (or cream) to make it creamier.

Risotto with Sausage © Lisa Morales

The End Is A Beginning

This pandemic has thwarted our sense of purpose and to work without the reward of time off or a vacation is extremely hard. However, dreams help us prepare for adversity. So when you wake up, keep remembering that where the bad dream ends, there’s still a day filled with possibilities, plus a daydream or two to keep us going — This too shall pass.

“I have had dreams, and I’ve had nightmares. I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams.” – Jonas Salk

@AllegoryPR #MyArtEscape

Note: Dr. Jonas Salk first tested his vaccine against the polio virus in 1952 before announcing to the world in 1955 that a viable vaccine against the feared virus was now a reality.  Albert Sabin followed Dr. Salk a few short years later by licensing an oral version of the polio vaccine in 1962.

Resource: Talking about your dreams may be a good idea if you are feeling anxious. Read more here.

You too can take a trip with Wine by the Bay! Visit www.winebtb.com/events.

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The Cookie Has Crumbled: Chocolate Chip Cookies and History

Feeding Five Under 25 $

It’s now Week 3 of the South Florida shelter in place order and I’m craving bad carbs, saturated fats, salt and sugar.

I’m crumbling and probably you are too. The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t a hurricane that will blow into the Atlantic in a few days. This is our modern day Hiroshima — a silent and invisible cloud looming over the entire earth. We can’t just change the channel and tune it out because it’s someone else’s war. It’s a world war and we’re in it together.

That being said, I think we deserve some chocolate. If you’re home schooling the kids, the smell of yumminess baking and the reward of cookies after lunch will most certainly get them through the morning classes with ease and give you some well-deserved comfort.

I did not adapt this recipe and it’s the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe found on New York Times Cooking. Although there’s nothing original about a Chocolate Chip Cookie, with this recipe you are biting into some history (pass that DYK on to the kids!)

The History Lesson

In the 1930s, Ruth Wakefield, the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie, ran the Toll House Inn, a popular restaurant in eastern Massachusetts, with her husband. Using an ice pick, Wakefield broke a semisweet chocolate bar into little bits, mixed them into brown-sugar dough, and the chocolate chip cookie was born. In 1939, she sold Nestlé the rights to reproduce her recipe on its packages (reportedly for only $1) and was hired to write recipes for the company, which supposedly supplied her with free chocolate for life. This recipe is very close to Mrs. Wakefield’s original (hers called for a teaspoon of hot water and ½-teaspoon-sized cookies), and the one you’ll still find on the back of every yellow bag of Nestlé chocolate chips.

The Recipe

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 2 large eggs

2 cups/12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixing bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, if using. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

I’m not sure who came up with the saying, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles” or “C’est la vie.” Whoever did though, probably didn’t live through a pandemic.

It’s impossible to shrug this off and small doses of comfort food or comforting are needed each day. Rather than mask your feelings, I suggest that you confront them. Here’s an article titled, “Grieving the Losses of Coronavirus” that has helped me put this into perspective and if you really need help, reach out to a friend or for professional help, but just remember…

“Chocolate is cheaper than therapy and you don’t need an appointment.” ― Catherine Aitken

If you need professional help, here are some resources:

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Feeding Five Under Twenty-Five $ : Easy Flatbread Skillet Recipe

I live in South Florida and as the numbers of confirmed cases of COVID_19 continue to rise, everyone is running around trying to find the basic food and household necessities fearing that everything except essential businesses will shut down. Wait! Everything has shut down, but things are moving faster than the Florida Everglades wildfires, so I temporarily forgot.

With parents struggling to work at home and also home school the kids, there are more meals to make. Items like bread, eggs and meat are hard to come by or not available.  Rather than buy supermarket convenience food,  I’ve put my mother’s World War II “how to feed a family” strategies into place.

Periodically on my blog, you’ll find tips on how I’m, “Feeding Five Under Twenty-Five” dollars. Keep eating healthy and exercise because that will help you manage the stress.

Here’s my first “Feeding Five Under Twenty-Five” recipe:

Cast Iron Cooked Flatbread Filled with Leftover Meat

1 package of active dry yeast

2 tsp of sugar

1 c of warm water (115°) – use only ½ c of water for the yeast

2 ½ c of all purpose flour

1 tsp of salt

3 tbsp olive oil

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in ½ c of water and reserve the other half.

Wait at least 5 minutes until the yeast becomes active. The top will resemble beer foam.

Combine the flour and salt. I use a mixer with bread hook, but with a spoon is fine. Slowly add the yeast and then the olive oil and the water (you may not need all of it) and blend until almost combined. I do the rest by hand and then knead until everything comes together and you can form a smooth ball. You don’t need to knead it too much, but here’s a ‘how to’ video.

Coat your mixing bowl with about 1 tbsp of olive oil and place the dough back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a (warm water) damp tea towel.

Go do something else for an hour. I chose to run outside because it’s a great way to get some Vitamin D and restore my sanity while in quarantine.

The dough should double within the hour. Punch it down and remove the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it into a tube and cut into six even pieces.

I used semolina flour, but any flour for rolling will do. Sprinkle some flour onto a rolling pin and roll into a thin disk. You can also rotate and stretch the dough like you’d do when making pizza. See this link which BTW is my favorite pizza dough recipe.

Heat a cast iron pan on medium until it is very hot (think pizza oven hot!) Add one of the rolled out dough pieces and watch it bubble up quick. Wait about 3 minutes and take a peak. You can flip it when it’s golden or get the charred look. Cook for another 3 minutes.

Note: A cast-iron pan gets very hot, so lower the temperature slightly if you think the dough will brown too quickly.

To keep the flatbreads warm and moist, wrap them in a tea towel.

I filled the flatbreads with leftover carné con papas (beef stew) from the night before. Shred the meat and chop the potatoes into small pieces. There wasn’t a lot of meat left so I added some chorizo too. Top the meat with chopped tomatoes, avocado, shredded cheese and cilantro. I didn’t have sour cream, but it’s healthier without it.

If you’ve read this far and hopefully making this recipe, I hope you’re now sharing my joy of creating something wonderful to eat. More than that, here’s a great time to stop watching the news or checking social media. You’ll have a yummy distraction for yourself and make your loved ones very happy.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

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Garnacha and Another Quixotic Wine Pairing Adventure

Once again, I’m taking #MyArtEscape overseas! What better way to prepare for a trip to Spain than to dive into the pot and uncork some knowledge? Ole!

I’m not sure which came first: the dish or the wine idea, but I was determined to find a wine made up of 100% Garnacha (known as Grenache in France and Cannonau in Sardinia.) As you know, I love rosé and Grenache is used in many of these wines from Southern France. It is usually blended with other grapes such as Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah. Now, Grenache is a red grape and I’ve explained how pink juice comes about in a previous blog (or you can Google it to learn more too.) This grape is also used for Châteauneuf-du-Pape and I’ve talked about it before as well.

Some grapes like the Nebbiolo, for example, haven’t found much success outside of their indigenous territory. However, Garnacha has easily adapted in other parts of the world with great success and after Tempranillo, it is the second most planted red grape variety in Spain. Do a little research and you’ll see that it has survived disease and drought, making resilience a large part of its popularity.

The Wine: Alto Moncayo 2016

I know very little about Spanish wine and wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try something new.  Today’s choice far exceeded my expectations!

Founded in 2002, Bodegas Alto Moncayo is a winery located in the Campo de Borja D.O (short for denominación de origen, a classification system used primarily for Spanish wines) located northwest of the province of Zaragoza. Check out this video produced by Bodegas Alto Moncayo that will put the location into perspective. The vineyard is 500 metres above sea level in the highest part of the town of Borja and to the south its namesake El Moncayo, which is the highest point in the Iberian Mountain Range. You can find out more about this area here.

DYK that after Switzerland, Spain is the most mountainous country in Europe and after Italy and France, produces the largest amount of wine? The three countries together produce almost half of the wine made in the world!

Alto Moncayo is the winery’s flagship and it has received lots of acclamation. Although the winery itself is very young, the vines are between 40 and 70 years old and the wine is aged in new barrels for 20 months. As described on their website: “It has a remarkable complex nose, with balsamic aromas, redolent of black fruit, roasted notes and a very good structure in the mouth” and you can read more here.  I’m getting a little better at aroma and flavor profiles, so I would add that dark cherries, chocolate and tobacco were also present, but remember a lot of this is subjective so I don’t want to impose on your own interpretations.

Wine snobbery aside, I can conclude that it’s just yummy and I’ll be dreaming about it for days!

Photo Credit: Author

The Dish: Spanish Rice, Chicken and Chorizo

Living in South Florida means that there are many versions of Arroz con Pollo (rice with chicken), but today I wanted something typically Spanish. I think what sets this dish apart from others are the dry rub mix and fresh ingredients. Don’t compromise and use prepackaged seasonings or tomatoes from a can or jar, ugh.

Here’s another secret: rinse the short or medium grained rice (in this case 1.5 cups) and then soak it in a bowl filled with cool water for about 20 minutes and then drain and rinse again.

  • Rub the dry spice mix on four chicken legs each cut to separate the thigh from the drumstick. Be sure to get the spice under the skin too.
  • Chop one large tomato, a medium sized red onion, 4 garlic cloves and a green pepper.
  • Warm a Dutch oven and coat it with about a tablespoon of olive oil and brown the chicken legs until slightly crispy; remove from pan.
  • Add the equivalent of two large chorizo sausages removed from their casing, and brown the sausage.
  • Add the onion and green pepper and sauté with a pinch of salt followed by the tomatoes, tomato paste and garlic. Add 3 cups of (low or no salt) chicken stock. Cover and bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Remove the chicken and bring the liquid back up to a boil before stirring in the (drained) rice. Gently place the chicken back into the pot, cover and reduce the temperature to low to allow enough time for the rice to cook through – about 20 minutes. Remove the Dutch oven from the stove and let the Arroz con Pollo stand covered for at least another 10 minutes. ** This last step is key to get that soft, but not mushy texture.
  • Finish the dish with a squeeze of lime and fresh, chopped cilantro. I found the recipe here.

Note: The Alto Moncayo is a bold wine and may not have been the perfect match for this dish. I’m now thinking that a Garnacha blend may have been more suitable. While I wouldn’t pair it with a steak or a tomato based beef stew, I think roast pork with seasoned, roast potatoes may be a better fit. (I have an amazing recipe for bacon wrapped pork tenderloin that I think would be perfect.)

Buen Viaje!

If you’re anything like me, a lot of planning goes into every vacation. I’m not just talking about booking a plane ticket and hotel. When I go somewhere, I go deep into research. I’ll be visiting one of the places on my “Bucket List,” the Alhambra in Granada and I’ve already booked an apartment in Madrid in Barrio de las Letras near The Art Triangle. The first being the place where Cervantes lived when in Madrid and the second, home to La Reina Sofia, the Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums. There’s a farmer’s market nearby and, since Spain holds the record of the most bars per inhabitant, I’ll be drinking vino and Cava for days!

It’s so me, I know: #MyArtEscape.

Adios!

If anyone out there in Google land is reading my blog (okay I know some of you are because I read Google Analytics), you’ll know that I end each post with a quote. Although, I have not read Don Quixote, (but may try to read at least Spark Notes before going to Spain) I have no idea in what context this quote is placed. We could read it literally and say that if you’re hungry anything tastes good, which sounds like something my British mother would have said when putting a plate of liver and boiled potatoes in front of me. No lie and probably there was some boiled carrots too. Triple ugh!

Or, knowing that Don Quixote was a dreamer, we could see life as a Quixotic journey and the experiences and knowledge we acquire along the way, are the best seasoning in the dish. Who knows?

La mejor salsa del mundo es el hambre, y como ésta no falta a los pobres, siempre comen con gusto. (The best sauce in the world is hunger and since it doesn’t leave out the poor, they always eat with pleasure.) ~ Miguel de Cervantes

Until next time, inhale curiosity, swirl spontaneity and taste the joy of travel whether that be through a book, a painting, a trip or a glass of wine. Salud!

@AllegoryPR #MyArtEscape

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Grape Expectations: Metaphors and Correlations

It’s 81°f (27.22°c) in South Florida. With heat on the rise, my palate is definitely springing forward – grilling and chilling with a glass of rosé in my hand and swapping out carbs for arugula (my favorite leafy green), avocado and roasted or sautéed vegetables.

However, today it’s Sunday and after two consecutive, long runs, I’m ready to fall in the pot. It’s hot out though and having the oven on for three or four hours will kill the a/c bill. TG for YouTube that gives me a quick lesson on how to braise on a grill. My Weber has good temperature control and cast iron pot is the perfect size.

I’m now ankle deep into the CSW textbook (chapter 6 to be exact), testing myself each day using Quizlet lessons and flashcards and feeling a little more confident about the content. It’s not easy though and although I read and write every day for work, self-study at this level has been a struggle.

The Dish: Braised Beef Ragu with Pappardelle Pasta

Pappardelle is a word nerd/foodie plaything. Derived from the Tuscan dialect word ‘pappare’ which means to gobble up food, it’s like Italian onomatopoeia.  Just slurp up those tasty, wide egg noodles straight from the pot, p,p,p, pappare! Read more here.

There are many recipes for beef ragu to be found and most are similar. I chose this one. There’s something very relaxing about a slow cooked, Sunday meal.  During the week, the long prep time alone is unmanageable. However, I love taking the time to wash and chop knowing that the holy trinity of cooking, (also called mirepoix in French and soffritto in Italian) onions, carrots and celery 2:1:1, is the foundation of all things yummy. The greatest thing is that once everything is in the pot, you have at least three hours to read a book, watch a movie or take a nap!

The Wine: Gaja Sito Moresco Rosso Langhe 2014

Nebbiolo of Barbaresco — Creative Commons

Google Gaja (the family and winery name) and you’ll quickly find out that the wine I chose is on the cheaper side of the Gaja skew. And, if you’re a wine collecting aficionado, you may be turning your fine-tuned nose up at my choice. However, wine newbie me says this wine is great value wow! It’s a blend as opposed to a varietal (single named grape variety) and composed of Nebbiolo (the prized grape of the region, Piemonte), Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Other years or vintages when referring to wine, seem to have a small percentage of one of the region’s other indigenous grapes, Barbera.

So, let’s discuss what’s up with the Nebbiolo fascination and what goes into the name?

There’s a plethora of information about the Nebbiolo grape and the most sought after wines of the Piemonte (aka Piedmont: the region), Barolo (an appellation) aka the king of wines and Barbaresco (another appellation). There’s scholarly articles, heated debates and even a movie: Barolo Boys.

Langhe

In my pursuit of wine knowledge, here’s what I found most interesting about this thin-skinned grape. Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon (red) or Chardonnay (white) that can be planted almost anywhere in the world and acquire new characteristics depending on where it has been planted, the Nebbiolo grape does best in not just its country of origin, but its specific area which is Northwest Italy. This gem loves its own soil and doesn’t develop anywhere near to as good, elsewhere.

I could go on and on, but it’s best that I leave Nebbiolo history and the wine facts to the experts. An enjoyable start can be seen in this video. Dig deeper and you’ll be amused by all of the old school and new school banter.

Creative Commons

As for the name, I’m learning that the winery is much more than a brand. Gaja has a long history and world-renowned reputation. Angelo Gaja was a bold, risk taker who broke away from the old traditions and tried seemingly blasphemous new approaches to winemaking. Angelo along with his wife and grown children manage everything together. I enjoyed reading this Wine Spectator article where he and his daughter Gaia discuss climate change and its impact on wine production.

I’m more of a #YOLO, drink-now and budget conscious wine newbie. However, if you have the means and patience to wait, certainly start your collection with one of their wines. Read more about the Sito Moresco here.

The Metaphor

Oh Canada!

My parents were immigrants. My mother at eighteen was ready to jump solo on a ship from England to Canada as part of a migration incentive program. Her Mom wasn’t so anxious and followed her, dragging two unwilling siblings on the long, Atlantic crossing. Mom never looked back. My Dad on the other hand, left his birthplace to find work opportunities in Canada. He spent his whole life wanting to return. On one of his annual visits back to his country, he died suddenly. Doing what he loved most, gardening, I have to believe that he passed happily.

I like many of you are transplants. We get cut from the vine of our birthplace and are grafted somewhere else. We thrive and survive as a different version of ourselves. Whereas we think we might not belong anywhere else, it is almost always possible.

The trilogy of grapes or vegetables in today’s dish demonstrates the beauty of blends. Each component brings color and character to the medley. We, like those components, do not lose our distinct flavor, but contribute to something richer.

Photo Credit

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” ― Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

Until next time, swirl and breathe deeply into your glass. As the aroma rises, think fondly about the dirt to which the grape came from and where it will go.

#MyArtEscape @AllegoryPR

NOTE: This Blog post was inspired by Chapters 3 and 4 of the Certified Specialist of Wine Guide. Both wines mentioned are from the Langhe wine region in Piemonte. The wine I cooked the beef with was (Dolcetto) Domenico Clerico Langhe Dolcetto Visadi 2013. A very reasonable price for a good wine that I will definitely drink rather than cook with next time!

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Lavender, Leather and Lactic Acid

It’s been awhile since I blogged or spent time in my kitchen, apart from preparing something quick for the sake of sustenance and getting me through one work day and into the next.

I’ve missed cooking slow, reading for pleasure and writing without a deadline looming overhead.

Serrano Market at Yellow Green Farmers Market (Hollywood, FL)

Time for a brief, mental getaway where I’ll pack the car with a cooler, head over to Yellow Green Farmers Market early and then drive over to Hollywood North Beach for a run. In 45 minutes, I’m able to run a little over four miles, north to the Dania Beach pier and back down to the Hollywood Broadwalk. (Go ahead and call me slow poke, but I’m not running for time, and have found a great way to beat the deadline stress plus maintain the same dress size despite my “calories don’t matter” cooking adventures!)

Pierre et Vacances located in Cannes La Bocca. The apartment is small, but the view is big!

This weekend, my palate travels to Provence. Probably one of my most memorable holidays was spending two weeks in the French Riviera. Set southwest of Nice, Pierre et Vacances is a chain of short term rental apartments in Europe. In Cannes La Bocca, you can book a fair size apartment with a small kitchen and a large balcony that overlooks both the resort pool and crystal blue Mediterranean! Considering how close it is to fancy Cannes, it’s not that expensive. Check it out here. It’s also steps from the market where you can pick up a baguette, fresh vegetables, cheese and a rotisserie chicken.

There’s so much more to Provence than the Mediterranean and should I return, I’ll hop on a train and head northwest. There you’ll find me prancing through fields of lavender and sipping on Châteauneuf-du-Pape!

However, in the meantime I’ve found a way to bring a little Provence into my kitchen. – be forewarned that roast chicken will never be the same after you try this recipe.

Lavender from Herban Tapestry located at Yellow Green Farmers Market

A Little History of Lavender

It was impossible to find fresh lavender, but Herban Tapestry (located in Yellow Green Farmers Market) offered three options. The aroma of the less expensive one didn’t seem significant enough to add to the dish and the most expensive one seemed better for a soak in the tub. So, I chose the mid-priced offering which smelled fragrant enough to blend nicely with thyme and rosemary.

Creative Commons

The best time to find lavender in full bloom in Provence is early to mid-July, although travel forums recommend that you check closer to your trip since the season lasts only a few weeks. Jean Giono wrote: “Lavender is the soul of Provence.” It was the Romans, however, that were the first to discover how to extract the oil. Did you know that lavender derives from Latin lavare meaning to ‘wash?’

The Pairing Wine: 2015 Clos Saint Michel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Reservée

As you know, I am a wine newbie, so if you’re a wine expert and stumbled upon this blog post, pardon my simplicity. Clos Saint Michel is the name of the winery; Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the region (and translates to the Pope’s New Castle); and the term cuvée reserve refers to a higher quality wine and in this case, from vines more than fifty years old. This wine is made up of 40% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 30% Mourvedre. The winery is situated upon the former bed of the Rhône Valley, thus the terroir (or land) is pebbly and rocky.

DYK that 95% of all wines in the Rhône come from the Southern Rhône? More than 380 million bottles per year! If you care to learn more, click here.

Aroma and Flavor Notes: I’m still grappling with tasting notes and I know that’s because of my newbi~ness. Hopefully, it all will dissipate in a year when I’m self-predicted to be at the end of the CSW textbook. When reading about this wine, I noticed the word “leather” mentioned a couple of times. Now I didn’t smell or taste leather, nor do I know if I could, as I sit comfortably on my leather sofa staring at the back like a child tempted to lick a metal pole in winter (that’s a Canadianism, I know.)

So according to Vinfolio.com, “when a critic tastes leather in a wine, he is almost always talking about the tannins. This makes sense, since the same tannins in wine are also used to tan leather. In reality, leather smells like bold red wine, not the other way around.”

Lactic Acid

Speaking of the CSW, I’m through the second round of reading chapters 1 and 2 with twenty-one more to go!  Whereas I thought from the start that I’d be diving into regions, grapes and history, I’m here stuck in acids and compounds, flashcards and brain strain.

A punny thing is that until last week, lactic acid meant to me that annoying buildup in the legs that you roll out after a run. However, in wine:

Lactic Acid is one of six different acids found in wine and created by the winemaking process. A chemical compound usually found in dairy products, this mild acid is created when a wine undergoes Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) – the process that converts Malic Acid into Lactic Acid….Lactic Acid also appears naturally in grapes during the fermentation process when the yeast converts sugar to alcohol…

Have I lost you? Well, you’ve reached the end and thanks for supporting my acidic banter. The good news is that my Provençal roast chicken is done and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape uncorked for the hour that it took me to write this post.

Follow the recipe carefully and don’t forget to add salt & pepper to the cavity of the chicken and stuff it with lemon chunks and whole cloves of garlic.
Brush olive oil onto both sides of the vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

I’ll finish by saying that the marinade and a cavity filled with lemon chunks and whole garlic cloves produced a succulent and aromatic roast chicken. It is served with a side of roast vegetables.

Until next time, let scent transport you to another place and melt away your stress, and may indulgence be the reward for a routine of moderation.

#MyArtEscape @AllegoryPR

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Catch Me If I Fall

Catch Me If I Fall

If you are fortunate to live somewhere in the tropics like me, it’s wrong to complain about the weather. However, we do and I’m going to right now. It’s October and the sun’s position says fall back, but it feels like July with no cool breeze to be felt.

I’m originally from the north, so at this time of the year my biological or more likely, my psychological clock says, store the cotton/linens and bring out the knits. My stomach says, stop grilling and eating salad and start slow cooking.

Or rather, Cook Slow

As a child I loved to go apple picking and have fond memories of tractor rides, ladders and picking apples off the ground. Yes, you don’t need a ladder to pick apples off the ground. My mother was a practical woman and she knew that windfalls were cheaper and could be stewed and the ones we could climb up the ladder to pick would be packed into lunches. Oh the smell, of stewed apples and cinnamon!

Here’s some more ways to not let windfalls go to waste.

Fall in the Pot

This evening’s recipeCider-Braised Pork Shoulder with Caramelized Onions is a tribute to my apple picking memories. There are many versions to be found and plenty of video tutorials too. Choose the one you like best. I tried to find the origin of this recipe and although there are Italian, German and French versions, I’d like to conclude that my dinner is American and the hard cider that I chose is, Angry Orchard Crisp Apple.

True to my practical roots, I am choosing the cheapest cut, pork shoulder. You could do chops or tenderloin, but if you are cooking slow, there’s no need to spend a lot.

From just five simple ingredients, a sumptuous autumn aroma will permeate your house!

Au gratin potatoes; roast turnips; and apple cider braised pork.

Why Riesling and Why Not Red?

Once again, I gave into #TheWineTherapist’s recommendation. I’ve always preferred red over white, but according to Stefano, I’ve been cheating my taste buds by not choosing any good ones. The conclusion is, listen to your wine consultant!

On my door step with enough time to be chilled, was the 2009 Peter Jakob Kühn Quarzit Riesling Trocken. I took enough German in high school to pronounce it correctly (I hope), but not enough to understand the website, so finding information was a challenge. Here’s one review and some tasting notes on this 89 Point wine (Wine Advocate) can be found here.

Riesling is the 18th most planted varietal  in the world and 20% of all grapes are planted in Germany. The one that I’m drinking today is from the Rheingau region. Do you know what distinguishes Riesling from the Rheingau and Mosel regions apart from other areas in the world?  Hint: Slope, south, sun.

Catch Me If I Fall

This week I became a member of the Society of Wine Educators and am enrolled in the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) course. I have a year to get through a large textbook, participate in online tutorials, take notes and complete exercises in preparation for the certification exam that consists of 100 questions. Of course, theory must be supplemented with practice and I’ll be tasting my way through regions and vineyards from around the world!

I’m an art enthusiast and not a critic; love to cook, but not a chef; a wine enthusiast, but not a sommelier. When I write about art or wine, my goal is to be easily understood and, hopefully, enjoyed by many.

As I embark on this wine adventure, if my approach ever becomes unapproachable, “catch me if I fall” and send me your feedback.

We first taste to enjoy and the joy of tasting allows us to tap into our memories or create new ones.

Until next time, remember that seasons are a state of mind. While you may have to wait before wearing the sweater, nothing stops you from Fall-ing in the pot.

@AllegoryPR #MyArtEscape

Continue reading “Catch Me If I Fall”

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